Interrogating Falana’s Ekiti State University Convocation Lecture – 3

Last week we affirmed, contrary to Femi Falana’s views, that there is true – and by implication – false federalism. True federalism is one that meets the yearnings of nationalities for a respectable degree of freedom and liberties for their diversity to be respected and upheld. In Nigerian parlance, this is called “unity in diversity” But where diversity is imperilled, then, there is no true but false federalism. Nigeria’s touted federalism is false because diversity is truncated; hence the strident cries against it.

We continue with Falana’s lecture today. Read on: “From November 1884 to February 1885, a gang of Europeans colonists held a conference in Berlin, Germany for the scramble and partition of the continent of Africa. Since Britain was allocated the territory around the Niger area its army of expedition invaded and attacked the various communities. The colonial army conquered the entire territory because it had superior weapons. After the conquest, the British government appointed Lord Frederick Lugard as the governor of both the Northern Nigeria Protectorate and the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. On January 1, 1914, Lugard, the governor of both Protectorates, signed a document consolidating the two, thereby creating the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. The amalgamation of Nigeria was achieved pursuant to three legal instruments i.e. the (Nigerian Council) Order-in Council 1912); The Nigeria Protectorate Order-in-Council 1913; and Letters Patent of 1913. It is not correct to say that six Nigerians signed the amalgamation treaty with Lugard.

Contrary to a popular myth, the amalgamation documents did not provide for the dissolution of Nigeria after 100 years. In fact, in order to facilitate the exploitation of the nation’s resources in perpetuity by imperialism the British wanted Nigeria to remain a united entity. The British colonial regime ran Nigeria as a unitary state and engaged in the reckless exploitation of the resources of the territory. The territory of Nigeria was not handed over to the British on the basis of any negotiation. Olorode has rightly recalled that “Colonial rule and exploitation result from colonial conquest and occupation. Its main aim was trade and investment by colonising powers. Its mode of operation was exploitation (putting in as little as possible and extracting as much as possible in return). The extraction involved a variety of resources including raw materials, human labour in different parts of colonial Nigeria (forced labour) and unpaid labour through slave trade which deprived black Africa, in particular massive human power. The victims of these varieties of pillage and exploitation resisted for as long as exploitation and pillage lasted. The resistance took place across Nigeria in Bonny, Akasa, Arochukwu, Jos, Iseyin, Sokoto, Benin, Ijebu-Ode etc.

Contrary to the false impression that is sometimes created in the course of the unstructured debate on restructuring, it is not really a new advocacy. It has always been a proposition to answer the National Question. Strictly defined, the National Question in the Nigerian context is about how the various ethnic groups (some of which are, in fact, nationalities), zones and regions relate within the Nigerian federation. On the agendas of the consecutive constitutional conferences in the pre-independence Nigeria was the structure of the federation. As things congealed the structure emerged. For instance, the Richard Constitution of 1946 was considered unitary while the Macpherson Constitution of 1951 was viewed as more federal in terms of devolution of powers to the regional governments of the north, east and west.

There was a fierce debate among the political parties on the nature of Nigerian federalism. Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Action Group (AG) were profoundly in support of federalism in which the regions would be relatively strong and autonomous. The AG government governed so competently that it introduced free primary education in the region which stressed from Badagry in the present Lagos State to Patani in the present Delta State. In other words, one premier and about a dozen ministers (now commissioners) governed the area now delineated into eight states. The National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe preferred a relatively stronger centre… Sir Ahmadu Bello’s Northern People’s Congress (NPC) jealously guarded the regional autonomy of the north…

Yet, extant issues of Nigerian federalism were invariably inherited by the independent Nigeria. The symptoms of the deformity in the structure were patent enough for the departing British colonialists to set up the Henry Willinks Commission to address the fears of the minorities. Soon after independence, agitation began for creation of more regions – Middle Belt in the north; Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (CORE) state in the east and the Midwest State in the West. As it were, only the Midwest state was created from the Western Region in 1963. The idea of the Midwest state was supported by the politicians from the north and east who, ironically, opposed the creation of the Middle Belt and CORE states from their respective regions. So, the politics of restructuring didn’t start today!

Soon after, the federation was engulfed in a political crisis and eventually the First Republic was terminated by soldiers in the January 15 military coup. Efforts to resolve the Nigerian crisis included the meeting facilitated by the Ghanaian government in a place called Aburi. The federalist content of the famous Aburi Accord, on which Emeka Ojukwu decided to “stand” as civil war raged, is obvious. Yakubu Gowon was said to have reneged on it on sensing that the Accord whittled down the powers of the central government, especially the control of the military and the police. As the civil war was about breaking out in May 1967, General Gowon created 12 states from the four regions. The restructuring prayers of the minorities of the north and south were answered with a stroke of the pen. Gowon himself is a minority element from Plateau state which combined with the present Benue state to form the then Benue-Plateau state. That was restructuring of sorts at the time. Since then successive military governments increased the number of states to 19 in 1976; 21 in 1987; 30 in 1991 and the present 36 in 1996.

Curiously, it is said that there are currently dozens of requests for the creation of more states by agitators. The refrain has been “to bring development closer to the people.” However, instead of development, we have witnessed greater opportunities for politicians to become governors, senators, ministers and chairman of boards… The framing of the 1979 Constitution, which has been the nucleus of all subsequent constitutions, was informed by the need to make the federation more workable in the composition of the legislative lists – exclusive and concurrent while residual matters were left for state governments. The federal character principle was enshrined in the Constitution. For instance, land in each state was vested in the state governor. So even the federal government would need the permission of the state governor to use land in a state!

The focus of advocacy for a national conference which began in 1990 is the urgent need to restructure Nigeria. When Alao Aka-Bashorun and others planned to stage one in August 1990 at the National Theatre a few months after an aborted military coup led by officers from minority areas, the Babangida military government forcefully stopped it. The call for a national conference later became the battle cry of the coalition forces fighting for the validation of the June 12, 1993 election won by Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola. Implicit in the agitation for national conference was restructuring. The “resource control” that is the slogan of the exploited and neglected oil-bearing Niger Delta is also an aspect of restructuring.

Since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999 attempts have been made to review the constitution to make the federation more functional, among other reasons. President Olusegun Obasanjo actually set up a multi-party committee to review the constitution… Obasanjo followed it up with a political conference. His attempt to have a third term by changing the constitution put an end to the process. President Goodluck Jonathan convened a national conference in 2014 in which eminent Nigerians were active participants. The report of the conference embodies answers to some of the structural questions of Nigerian federalism. The important document has been routinely ignored by the Buhari administration. Some of them would require pieces of legislation for implementation. Others could be put into effect by executive orders. For instance, if the conference’s recommendation on ranching had been implemented in 2014, the tension generated by the needless controversy on the “offensive” idea of “cattle colonies” five years later could have been avoided. Jonathan who summoned the conference did nothing about the report in the last one year of his term.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) has the restructuring policy in its manifesto. The party later set up a panel headed by Kaduna State Governor Nasir el Rufai on restructuring when reminded that the issue was ignored after the party assumed power in 2015. Although the committee recommended restructuring, there is no clear commitment by APC, which controls the executive and legislative arms of government. Yet, there appears to be a growing demand for the national consensus that implementing the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference as a way of addressing the lingering questions of Nigerian federalism. So history matters in pondering restructuring”.

I agree totally with Falana that history matters absolutely, not just in restructuring but also in all that we do. Not knowing our own history is not knowing where the rain started beating us. Not learning from our own history is repeating the mistakes of the past. Not applying solutions rooted in our own history is gobbling down foreign prescriptions that worsen rather than ameliorate our problems. Yes, the National Question predates Nigeria but the “solutions” offered have tended to exacerbate the problem. State creation is not restructuring and does not answer the question of fears of domination and oppression of one group by another. If it does, the avalanche of states ought to have solved the problem! And if state creation is the solution, why is it curious to have more states? Falana was right to say that state creation, like the presidential system, makes the cost of governance prohibitive. Neither brings development nearer the people – value for money – or moves us closer to true or working federalism.

Falana was right when he said that “the politics of restructuring did not start today” and the example he gave was apt. The creation of the Midwest from the Western region through the conspiracy of the Northern and Eastern regions with the sole aim of weakening Awo and the West was not to answer anyone’s “restructuring prayer” Were that the case, the conspirators would have by same “stroke of the pen” created the Middle Belt and CORE regions out of the Northern and Eastern regions respectively. It is this kind of injustice multiplied, carried on, and carried over for decades that now gnaws at the underbelly of Nigeria. Injustice – absence of fairness, equity and fair play – is what is killing Nigeria. Demand for restructuring or outright dissolution is not to have more states but to enthrone justice, equity and fair play. Constitutional amendments, political or national conferences have not been of any use. Insincerity of leaders and the politics of holding fast to privileges have scuttled efforts at true federalism.

Falana said nothing in the amalgamation document of 1914 prescribes a time frame of 100 years: Various self-determination groups are putting that to test already. But I do know that nothing lasts forever! Also, Jean-Jacques Rousseau said: The strongest is never strong enough to be always master unless he transforms strength into right and obedience into duty” The wanton troopers riding roughshod over the polity today will not hold the others down for ever. No empire lasts forever! TO BE CONTINUED!

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